Bharti Airtel has halted plans to commercially deploy Alphabet subsidiary X’s Free Space Optical Communications technology, Taara for rural broadband connectivity over reservations regarding its real-world viability across diverse Indian terrain and climate conditions.
Analysis for a Layman:
Airtel and Alphabet’s X lab have been testing Taara’s laser-based wireless internet technology to provide high-speed broadband in remote villages by transmitting data through light beams between towers. This obviates expensive fiber cables.
But extensive pilots have revealed that performance may suffer in heavy rains, fog, or storms – frequently impacting rural areas. This can compromise the mobile internet experience expected by 4G/5G users. Airtel now feels more large-scale controlled tests mimicking real conditions are needed before adoption.
Airtel’s reluctance underlines the dichotomy between controlled lab environments and field dynamics involving vagaries of nature, terrain, and pollution. Even innovative wireless solutions need extensive localization.
While Airtel adopts a cautiously optimistic approach allowing more pilot time for Alphabet, the development is a reminder of balancing technology ambitions with on-ground realities. However, optimized FSO technology can still potentially benefit digital inclusion. Regulatory backing can aid telecom infrastructure investments here.
Impact on Retail Investors:
For investors, the risk of over-exposure or complacency regarding emerging technology investments gets highlighted yet again via this case. While backing innovation is key, assessing execution viability and results from larger operational pilots is vital.
Broader infrastructure plays retaining flexibility across an array of new technologies may fare better in investors’ portfolios rather than narrow niche bets.
Impact on Industries:
Telecom equipment vendors specializing in fiber optic products may benefit from this delay in alternate wireless broadband proliferation. Tower companies too retain relevance for cellular network expansion in uncovered remote pockets.
However, the niche market potential for free space optical communication products suffers in the near term. Licensors of such technologies may have to further customize for Indian markets.
While the initial enthusiasm for futuristic solutions like light-based satellite internet and fiber alternatives persists, unbiased evidence gathering via pilots in intended markets is key before adoption calls. Investors too need balanced approaches backing innovation.
Citation: Parbat, Kalyan. “Airtel-Alphabet Deal on Laser Tech Runs into Rough Weather.” The Economic Times, 11 Dec